For many, the question isn’t whether we believe in eating junk food, but whether we can help it. Our society offers indulgence as a virtue and discipline as a punishment. But discipline is not a punishment; it is a virtue and the key to health and happiness. Without it we become lazy and unfulfilled, and our bad food choices lead to ill-health. With a little practice, though, we can improve our discipline, change our habits, and change our lives.
There are a couple of different types of Paleo people out there: ones that have major health problems to overcome and ones that don’t.
Those that don’t have big health problems might just like the idea of Paleo on an intellectual level, maybe eating Paleo soothes digestion, maybe it offers more energy, relieves PMS, lowers triglycerides, etc.
Others suffer of serious mental problems like depression or schitzophrenia, major hormonal imbalances like PCOS and endometriosis, debilitating arthritis or, worse yet, many of these combined. The more a body deteriorates the harder it is to hold it together – the more important maintaining a strict diet becomes. It is those with the major health problems that have the biggest job ahead and absolutely must learn to develop better discipline if optimal health is to be achieved.
Whoever you are, you could probably benefit by improving your discipline. Most people in this indulgent society of ours could. Following are some tips that have helped me to become very disciplined in my food choices.
1. Think of the consequences. Short term consequences might include gas, bloating, fast or slow digestion, pimples, bags under your eyes. Is tomorrow a good day for feeling and looking this way? Long term consequences include the return of symptoms of major health problems. Frequent indulgence will make conditions worse or not improve at all. How important is it to you to reverse your health conditions? There are many foods I still love that I don’t eat anymore. Chips are among them. But chips scratch and tear their way out of my digestive system. All I have to do is think about the gas and bloating that ensues and I won’t lay hands on them.
2. Think of the example you are setting for your children. It’s not like kids aren’t watching. They know how often you cheat and how seriously you take your health. All the words in the world won’t make up for the example you are setting when you indulge again and again. If you choose to hide your cheating from your kids, they will have no choice but to think that eating well doesn’t really help since their parent supposedly eats well and still doesn’t feel good.
3.Think of the example you are setting for those you hope will follow you down the road to health. Most of us want our spouses to go Primal too. But if they see that we aren’t getting results, they won’t bother with it themselves. But if you can show your spouse that it’s easy, it works, and it’s worth sticking to it, you’ll make a better impression.
4. See the light at the end of the tunnel. If you have been feeling depressed or moody as a reaction to your poor food choices, remember that eating clean, real food changes our gene expression and reverses even life long conditions. You know those people you envy who always seem happy, who look great and feel vibrant? You can be one of them too.
5. Put it off just one more day. Postpone the cheat another day. On the next day, you may do the same and so on and so on, postponing the cheat day further and further out. Doing this consistently will make cheating a pretty rare occurrence.
6. Sever undesirable neural connections in your brain. Behavioral patterns are very strong neural connections in our brains. When we do anything our brain makes a connection. The more we do that thing, the stronger that connection becomes until we don’t even think about it. We just do it. This is pretty useful for directions, for good habits like exercising. But for bad habits like sitting on our butts and eating unhealthy food, the ease with which we do it can be overwhelming. Until we make a conscious and constant effort to change where our neurons fire our bad habits will continue to undermine any attempts at self-discipline. Discipline is a muscle if you will. It takes time to strengthen it, but in time it gets easier.
7. Start by having less not none. If you are an over-eater who can’t put it down until it’s gone, start by making yourself put it down half way. Your neurons are almost forcing you to eat the whole thing because that’s what you’ve taught your brain to do. Break those neural connections by making the change. Even if you put it down half way and then pick it up again in ten minutes, you’re still starting on the road to severing that habit.
8. Reward yourself. At the end of the day if you’ve managed to keep your diet clean as a whistle, give yourself a piece of candy. No I’m kidding, have a piece of cake. Oh wait, no, have a special Christmas eggnog latte. No? Ok, why don’t you buy yourself a new outfit. Wait that would get expensive day after day. This isn’t working. Food or buying things at malls is about the only kind of reward that we know of in our culture. What is meaningful to you that you could reward yourself with?
9. Remove temptation. Cupboards full of tempting, sweet or comfort foods can be irresistible when the going gets tough. Your new found discipline will only take you so far for so long before you either feel so good you think you’re invincible or you feel so bad that you just don’t care anymore. I don’t keep tempting foods in the house. My family supports the weakness that I have admitted to and they eat foods that I can’t handle outside of our house.
10. Stabilize blood sugar. Blood sugar problems contribute to poor and impulsive decisions. Eating plenty of healthy fats can help even out blood sugar as can staying away from allergens and sweets.
11. Enjoy life. Find something to enjoy other than food. If you don’t have any hobbies now, find some. Start rock climbing, painting, learning a new instrument. Join a social group. Start a movement. Looking to food for fun robs you of moments you could have spent enjoying all the many things this world has to offer. You may argue that food is a great source of fun. Occasionally that is fine, but if you find that food is the only kind of fun you know how to have, it will probably be very difficult to give up the foods that harm you since they are also your only source of pleasure. Find other sources of pleasure. You’ll thank yourself for it.
12. Set a goal. Maybe you have some weight to lose. Maybe you have skin you’d like to see clear up. Maybe you want to stop arguing with your spouse or kids. Maybe you’d like a toner body but just don’t have the energy to get to the gym often enough. Set goals to keep in mind why you are doing what you’re doing. Remember these goals each time you are confronted with temptation.
13. Remove the stressors that cause you to eat emotionally. This could be a bad family situation, financial problems, a hectic lifestyle, too many responsibilities, not enough sleep, not enough personal time, or no allowance for creativity. When stress is high, when fulfillment is low, food consoles.
14. Breath deeply and stay calm. This takes practice but it can be amazingly effective when everything around you is crazy. When you can maintain calm, you can deal with more and control yourself better. I took up singing years ago just because I had wanted a better voice. I was surprised to find how it changed my breath and relaxed my jaw. Singing turned out to be, for me, a huge stress reliever.
15. Turn off the TV! Yeah, there’re cool programs on TV but there are also cool people to hang out with, cool books to read, and a plethora of cool things to do. Television is bad for the brain, encourages mindless eating, and wastes loads of time which could be spent doing things that make us feel good about ourselves.
16. Read Shogun. Taking a step outside of our indulgent culture that is lacks self-discipline, and into a culture that radiates discipline can bring a better understanding of how people do discipline. While I’ve always been more disciplined than most, it wasn’t until I read Shogun, 4.5 years ago, about the ancient Japanese people, that I discovered discipline on another level. It was then that my health soared, which is what I had always hoped for.
17. Consider your future health. Even if you don’t suffer of any serious health conditions now, picture your parents or coworkers who do. Do you want to turn out like them?
18. Think of the money you could be saving by forgoing treats. Treats cost a lot of money! A pint of good organic ice cream costs about $4 and so do the ingredients for a nutritious chicken bone broth soup. One is dinner and one is, well, extra calories after dinner.
Which of these suggestions do you plan on implementing right now to improve your food discipline? What other methods have worked for you?